BENNINGTON — Beyond producing an enjoyable story, author Karen Gross had loftier aims in writing "Lady Lucy's Ghost Quest," the latest in her series of illustrated books for children (and sometimes adults).
"I hope the Ghost Quest book achieves several things," Gross said during an online interview. "I hope it serves as a lasting reminder of Southern Vermont College's home — the stunning Everett Mansion. And I hope it brings people from all around the globe to see the mansion."
Gross, who served for eight years as president of the former college, which closed in the spring, hopes her new book "reminds students, faculty and staff and the community about the many ghost stories that have existed about the mansion."
She said students often reported hearing or seeing apparitions in the 27-room structure that became the centerpiece of the 371-acre SVC campus off Monument Drive in Bennington.
There was a television show about ghosts in the former home of wealthy businessman Edward Everett, which was constructed during 1911-14, and ghosts are mentioned in books about the massive stone-walled estate near the base of Mount Anthony.
"The meeting of ghosts in the Lucy story matches the rumors of the past as to what ghosts were there," Gross said.
Lady Lucy, it should be noted, is a spunky girl who, in the first book in the series wants to become a knight and is not deterred when told that girls can't be knights. She goes on to pass "the three treacherous tests of knighthood: endurance, strength and courage."
The book themes are "about belief in self and the power of the possible," Gross said. "It is a read-to, read-with, and read-by kids' story — ages 4 or 5 — to adulthood!"
The `Lucy' series
Launched in 2016, the series now includes five published books and others in production.
In her newest quest, Lady Lucy crosses the ocean to visit Everett Mansion in the far-away Kingdom of Vermont. Along the way, she has managed to pick up some magical friends to share her adventures. Those include a blue dragon named Dillon and Tapestry, a multicolor unicorn.
The message in the ghost quest story, Gross said, is "use courage; solve problems and believe in the power of the possible."
She added, "As you know, I was and remain saddened by the closure of SVC. In a way, this book is both my tribute to SVC and my obituary with respect to it — all in one. I hope [the book] will be read and read with tears of joy and sadness. And, it is a way of moving on too, recognizing the power of what was and the still existing belief in a future."
She said she hopes the book "brings pride to the alums, former students and faculty and staff — as well as the Bennington community — when they think about the school on the hill that enabled so many people to experience success."
And lastly, Gross said, "It is my hope for the future that SVC will rise again like a phoenix and come back in some form to enable remarkable education to occur. It was, without question, too good to fail. That is embodied in the story and in the dedication."
The book was designed and illustrated by Dianne Sunda, who is also working on another Lucy book with Gross, and illustrator Georgia Hamp.
Many depictions of actual features of the Everett Mansion or the estate grounds will be familiar to anyone who has visited the campus.
Sunda, who now resides in the London area, as does Hamp, was one of the college's founding faculty members and later helped develop the school's liberal arts program as dean and provost.
"She has worked with me (along with her team) every step of the way, and the illustrations enrich the story immeasurably," Gross said. "Dianne and her team captured the feel of the mansion and ever so beautifully illustrated Lady Lucy, Dillon and Tapestry."
Hamp was born in England and studied art history and architecture. Her experience as a student of architecture "was incredibly valuable to the story," Gross said. "One will never forget her illustration of the Everett Estate."
Sunda's previous connections to SVC "make the story all the more powerful. She reminds us of SVC's past and the way it continues to enrich people's present and future," Gross said.
Sunda, who has taught art in schools in the U.S. and Britain, currently runs an art foundation. She had recruited Hamp and served as her mentor while the younger artist was at university.
The Lucy series book is the second they have worked on as a team.
In addition to studying art at the University of Louvain in Belgium, Sunda was the first woman and graduate student to be accepted by legendary Williams College professor S. Lane Faison and later became the first international Fellow member of the Williams College Museum of Art.
While in Vermont, Sunda's art thesis work was exhibited for two years in the Vermont Senate.
In addition to leading Southern Vermont College, Gross has served as a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to that, she was a law professor for two decades, focusing on asset building in low-income communities.
Currently, she is senior counsel to Finn Partners, where she specializes in crisis management.
An expert in trauma and disaster planning and relief, she is certified as a Psychological First Aid provider and enrolled in a clinical certification program in trauma at the Rutgers Graduate School of Social Work.
She has a forthcoming adult book published by Columbia Teachers College Press on how to ameliorate trauma and foster improved student success across the educational landscape.
"All my books are trauma sensitive," she said, "meaning they foster connections and belief in one's capacity and recognition that hurdles can be addressed, often showing one needs and has courage."
The new book will be available at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, where there will be a launch with a signing on Oct. 30, from 5 to 6:30. It will also be available from The Bennington Bookshop and other independent bookstores, as well as Amazon.
The book also will be read on Oct. 31 to students at Molly Stark Elementary School in Bennington, where Gross has been an artist in residence for four years. She will be at the school from 8:55 to 11:30 a.m.
Books will be available there for purchase and signing as well.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien